Part I: The Libyan Muslim Brotherhood.
- Starting from this issue, MEB will publish a series of reports based on documents it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the US State Department focusing on the US – Muslim Brotherhood “understandings” in different moments of the relation between the two sides.
For the past decade, two successive U.S. Administrations have maintained close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Libya, to name just the most prominent cases. The Obama Administration conducted an assessment of the MBs in 2010 and 2011, beginning even before the events known as the “Arab Spring” erupted in Tunisia and in Egypt. The President personally issued Presidential Study Directive 11 (PSD-11) in 2010, ordering an assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood and other “political Islamist” movements, including the ruling AKP in Turkey, ultimately concluding that the United States should shift from its longstanding policy of supporting “stability” in the Middle East and North Africa (that is, support for “stable regimes” even if they were authoritarian), to a policy of backing “moderate” Islamic political movements.
To this day, PSD-11 remains classified, in part because it reveals an embarrassingly naïve and uninformed view of trends in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region.
Through an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, thousands of pages of documentation of the U.S. State Department’s dealings with the Muslim Brotherhood are in the process of being declassified and released to the public. This is the first of an ongoing series of MEB reports on the contents of those documents and the underlying relationship between Washington and the global Muslim Brotherhood movement.
U.S. State Department documents obtained under the FOIA confirm that the Obama Administration maintained frequent contact and ties with the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood. At one point, in April 2012, U.S. officials arranged for the public relations director of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Gaair, to come to Washington to speak at a conference on “Islamists in Power” hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
A State Department Cable classified “Confidential” report says the following: “Benghazi Meeting With Libyan Muslim Brotherhood: On April 2  Mission Benghazi met with a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood steering committee, who will speak at the April 5 Carnegie Endowment `Islamist in Power’ conference in Washington, D.C. He described the Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to form a political party as both an opportunity and an obligation in post-revolution Libya after years of operating underground. The Brotherhood’s `Justice and Construction’ Party would likely have a strong showing in the upcoming elections, he said, based on the strength of the Brotherhood’s network in Libya, its broad support, the fact that it is a truly national party, and that 25 percent of its members were women. He described the current relationship between the Brotherhood and the TNC as `lukewarm.’|”
Another State Department paper marked “Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU)” contained talking points for Deputy Secretary of State William Burns’ scheduled July 14, 2012 meeting with Mohammed Sawan, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who was also head of the Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party. The document is heavily redacted, but nevertheless provides clear indication of Washington sympathies for the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood as a major political force in the post-Qadaffi Libya. The talking points recommended that Secretary Burns tell Sawan that the U.S. government entities “share your party’s concerns in ensuring that a comprehensive transitional justice process is undertaken to address past violations so that they do not spark new discontent.”
The Burns paper described the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood: “Prior to last year’s revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood was banned for over three decades and its members were fiercely pursued by the Qadhafi regime. The Libyan Muslim Brotherhood (LMB) returned to Libya last year after years in exile in Europe and the United States, selected new leadership and immediately began to plan for an active role in Libya’s political future.” After a redacted section, the document continued, “The LMB-affiliated Justice and Construction party, led by Misratan and former political prisoner under Qadhafi Mohamed Sawan, was created in March 2012. Sawan himself was not a candidate in the elections but wields significant influence as the head of the largest political party and most influential Islamist party in Libya.”
The July 14 meeting was attended by both Secretary Burns and Ambassador Christopher Stevens. On September 11, 2012, Ambassador Stevens and three other American diplomats were killed in a premeditated terrorist attack on U.S. mission and CIA facilities in Benghazi.
An undated State Department cable revealed further courting of the LMB and its Justice and Construction Party. “Mohamed Sawan, Chairman of Justice and Construction Party, received yesterday at his office in Tripoli, Ambassadors of US, UK, FR and IT. The Ambassadors requested the meeting to get acquainted with the party’s position on the current events in Libya, the Government, the Party’s demand to sack the Prime Minister, the Constitution, GNC lifetime arguments, dialogue initiatives and Party’s assessment of political and security situation in Libya and the region. During the meeting, which took an hour and a half and attended by Mohamed Talb, party’s International Relations officer, and Husam Naeli, acting liaison officer, Sawan explained that the Government has not been able to achieve any success in the core files such as security and local government, which both are under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister. Such a failure resulted in the lack of security, continuous assassinations, kidnappings, crimes, smuggling and attacks on public and private property, halt oil exports and disruption of water and electricity supply. Sawan stressed that a solution is possible and the party presented a clear solution, but the Government is not in harmony. He added we are responsible only for ministries that we take part in.”
The State Department cable noted that “On their part, the Ambassadors praised the active role of the Party in the political scene and confirmed their standing with the Libyan people and Government despite its weaknesses and they are keen to stabilize the region… At the end of the meeting, Sawan thanked his guests and all stressed the need to communicate. The guests affirmed that they will assist through Libyan legitimate entities as they did during the revolution.”
A final State Department cable in the series of documents released so far under the FOIA action, from March 2013, noted that “The Islamist-oriented Justice and Construction Party (JCP) led by Mohammad Sawan held a political convention March 24, on the first anniversary of the JCP’s founding… U.S. Charge d’Affaires attended the JCP event, which honored Mustafa El-Kobti, the spiritual leader of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood and Grand Mufti Sadia El-Gheriani, and paid tribute to victims and war wounded of the 2011 revolution.”
Knowledgeable sources have informed MEB that the U.S. Government began the policy shift in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood, including the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, over a decade ago. On February 16, 2011, a White House internal assessment prepared by Dennis Ross, Samantha Power and Gayle Smith concluded that the Muslim Brotherhood had “large ideological differences” with Al Qaeda and warned “If our policy can’t distinguish between Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, we won’t be able to adapt to this change” now underway throughout the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region.